Walk a Mile in My Heels, by Anonymous Woman Attorney

Today is Equal Pay Day.  That is the date the salaries of women catch up with the salaries their male counterparts earned in 2012. There is much public discussion about why it is that women do not succeed at the same levels as men and about the dissatisfaction many young women have with their careers.  The reasons for these situations might just stem from the fundamentally different experience that women and men have on the job. With respect to the legal profession, it is difficult for many male attorneys to understand the work environment of most female attorneys. Imagine, though, that the roles in most law firms were reversed.

Reverse the Roles.  Picture  a male attorney fresh from law school, beginning to look for his first job.  More of his law professors than not were women, but his class was about 50 / 50 men and women. He hadn’t given much thought to gender differences in the job market, but he shines up his shoes and heads out . . .

Interviewing.  With few exceptions, the lawyers interviewing him are female, and all of the firm names bear the names of women attorneys.  Even when he is interviewed by male attorneys, they are not partners, and the few that are partners are in lower level roles – they are not the decision makers – the women are.  The women attorneys ask how well he will be able to work with women, and whether he will be able to overcome his ego and work cooperatively.  He has a vague sense that these types of questions are sexist.  He really wants and needs a job, so he overlooks these issues. As he is interviewing, he realizes not very many people are looking forward to working with him.  Men attorneys have a reputation for being difficult to work for.  Some secretaries refuse to work for men attorneys. They describe men attorneys as “assholes” and “tight asses.”  He knows he is very pleasant and helpful, and there is no reason anyone should think he is hard to work for, but the stereotype is embedded.  He will have to work extra hard to show he will not behave like he is expected to.  He feels like the cards are stacked against him from the very beginning.

First Job.  He finally gets two job offers and he has to pick one.  One firm seems to be more of a fit for him than the other.  This particular firm seems to be committed to increasing the number of men attorneys in the firm.  They advertised as an equality opportunity employer. They have had one or two men work there before, and they offered to provide new male hires with a mentor.  The other firm seemed committed to hiring men also but during the interview, the women partners at that firm joked about men who like to talk about sports which made him feel unwelcome. So he chooses the first firm.

Early Years in Career.  Things go well for a few years.  He seems to get along with all of the women partners.  He seems to be catching on.  More lawyers are hired at the firm – mostly more women.  He is still very much a minority at the firm.  In fact, he is the minority everywhere.  In court, the judges are almost all women and the other lawyers are almost always all women.  Other firms seem to be made up mostly of women attorneys too.

Almost without exception the partners in other firms are also women.  When he goes to seminars, the speakers are almost always all women.  In the lawyer magazines he reads, the authors of articles are almost all women, and the photos of are almost all of women attorneys.  References to male lawyers and male judges are usually negative stories.  There are even stories about proper clothing for male attorneys . . . he’s  heard awful jokes about the ties most male attorneys wear.  He feels isolated, so he joins a group of men lawyers.  It is assuring to attend the group’s meetings  where he meets male judges and successful male attorneys.  This is a place he can go to and feel assured that he too can be successful one day.  His firm does not see the value of his membership in the group though, and does not support it financially.

Early Client Development.  A few years pass and he is reaching a point where he needs to bring clients to the firm.  He is upset once when he realizes that some of the women attorneys hired after him were included in a client development event and he was never even told about it. His mentor is not really much help explaining things to him; she just says to keep working hard. Of course he knows he is working hard, harder than the new women in fact, because he has to prove himself. He spends a lot of mental energy trying to prove he is cooperative so he will fit in. He is also trying to develop clients but it is difficult because all of the clients are overwhelmingly women and they seem to want only women partners working on their matters.  His male attorney friends at other firms joke about how they need to take a grey haired woman with them to client pitch meetings because all clients seem to want some assurances that experienced women attorneys will work on their matters.  The new client he did recruit ended up being credited to one of the women somehow.

Isolation.  He seems to grow isolated in the firm.  As the years go by, most of the firm’s male lawyers leave the firm for other jobs.  A few times these male lawyers leave the practice of law completely.  Usually though, they find jobs they think have more potential for advancement.  He is one of the few men attorneys to stay with the firm.  He tries to mentor younger men attorneys but they seem to instinctively know he is not a power at the firm.  At lunchtime, the women attorneys all have things to talk about that he isn’t necessarily interested in or knowledgeable about. They talk about the male lawyers and judges who they think are “assholes”. He likes to talk about sports but they are not into sports at all.  The women like to meet at a frozen yogurt shop across the street after work but he can’t stand frozen yogurt.  ometimes he tags along anyway, and buys a bottle of water.  The women attorneys all seem to go together for lunch, too.  They never ask him to come.  He wants to be part of the group but becoming part of the group seems impossible.  When he tries to join conversations, the women attorneys seem to exchange knowing glances about what an idiot he is, and their comments seem to mock him.

Sometimes the women partners make jokes about men.  He forces himself to laugh at the jokes like he doesn’t care, and in the beginning he didn’t care.  But now, the jokes are painful.  They exemplify how different he is to them.

Gender Bias. When he goes to take depositions in other offices, it is common for women in other offices to mistakenly believe he is a security officer.  People seem to jump to conclusions that he is a blue collar worker of some type.  He often has to explain that he is actually an attorney.

Lack of Advancement.  At his firm, he doesn’t seem to get assignments that will advance his skills.  He doesn’t understand why he is not chosen to work on high profile cases – the women associates are always chosen instead.  He has done some great work – he even won an arbitration and a trial - and clearly he is a skilled and talented lawyer, but the women partners just don’t want to give him credit.  He once went to a seminar and brought his golf clubs thinking he would put together a foursome with some of the other attorneys or firm clients who attended.  All of the women stared at him as if he were a freak.  He felt so out of place.

He is evaluated every year by the women partners.  It is always a very trying time.  When he tries to outline his contributions, he is told he thinks too highly of himself.  When he doesn’t outline his contributions, he is minimized.  He can’t win. He feels he can never completely live up to the expectations of the women partners.  When he tries to mimic the qualities of the women associates, he is criticized.  He is not sure what he needs to do in order to be considered an equal. The partners cut him less slack then the women attorneys.  They judge him more harshly.  They remember his mistakes forever.  While the women attorneys are heralded for having potential, he has trouble getting credit for the actual revenue he brings to the firm.

Advanced Client Development.  He is trying to bring in even more clients because he feels if he can just bring in more business, then the partners will finally appreciate his worth, but getting more clients is hard. Potential clients don’t seem to view him as someone who is knowledgeable even though he does all of the work on cases.  So he tries to do even more. He joins more groups, writes articles, speaks at seminars, and markets intensely. This does little good.  The women partners actually tell him they would prefer it if he spent his time just working on cases.  They seem to want him to do nothing but work and to have no aspirations for more.  He becomes a partner eventually because he has a client base and a good solid book of business but he earns far less then all of the women partners.  He is not sure but suspects he makes at least 40% less than female partners with similar contributions. Their lives are so different.

Income Differences.  He makes a good living.  The women partners, though drive nicer cars, have multiple vacation homes, send their children to private school and colleges, and take vacations in Europe. He bought a nice home a few years ago when he thought he was on his way up. He was wrong, and he has not continued to advance even though his contributions seem to justify further advancement.  As a result, he is in poor financial shape.  He doesn’t understand why . . .  He might not be able to help his kids through college, and he expects he will have to work to at least the age of 70 before he can retire.

Opting Out.  After more than a decade with his firm, he realizes that quite possibly wasted his time all these years. Maybe he should have left the firm years ago. He cannot make the women partners see him as anything more than a worker bee. Even though they started as 50/50, now the Commission on Men is reporting that men are only 31% of the practicing profession, and even less are partners.  He knows now why so many men give up on private practice.  Maybe he should have also.  The unfairness of the situation is so depressing, so intolerable.  Although he loves his job, the jokes and criticism, and the lack of appreciation sap his strength every day.  But he stays, and continues the struggle.  He does not know what else he can do.

What Would Men Do? What would men do in this situation? Working an entire career in an environment that sends you subtle messages every day that success does not look like you, or talk like you, or think like you would make any normal person lose their spirit entirely. Perhaps most men would begin to opt out of practicing law.  Maybe they would decide that their families were more important than the potential of succeeding in such a biased and difficult environment.  Maybe they would decide it wasn’t worth the effort  to aim high. Maybe they would share their experience with other men and influence them to opt out of law school altogether.  It would be understandable, wouldn’t it?

Walk a Mile in My Heels.   I am every woman attorney you work with or for.
I am leaning in all the way, and have been for years.  I put on my heels every day and with as much boldness as I can muster, I face a profession which, though great strides have been made, still does not view me as an equal to my male partners.  I’ve put my heels on every day for years, in the face of both outright harassment and subtle discrimination, which has deprived me of the same opportunity my male colleagues have enjoyed.  I put on my heels every day and keep going even though I did not receive the same mentoring my male colleagues received, and even though I seem to work twice as hard to bring in half as much revenue for half as much compensation as my male counterparts.  It is not easy to keep putting my heels on every day and to keep striving to do more and more so that one day, perhaps, I might be considered an equal of my male partners.  It’s hard to keep putting on my heels when I see that my mistakes are remembered longer, my accomplishments are minimized, and there seems to be a belief that I am not serious about my career since I also have a family.  When I’ve asked for fair compensation, I’ve been reminded how grateful I should be that I’ve been able to have a family and a career – as if that somehow renders me less entitled to fair compensation. When I think I have struggles, though, I remember my sister lawyers who are also women of color.  My isolation and my battles are nothing compared to theirs.

According to the Department of Labor, on average, women earn less than men, but this effect grows over time for women.  As men gain experience in the labor force their wage gains typically exceed those experienced by women. Taking the wage gaps by age in 2010, if these were the gaps that all cohorts of women faced at each age, then by age 25 a woman working full-time, full-year will have earned $6000 less than a man working full-time full-year. By age 35, a woman who experiences the typical gap at each age in 2010 has earned $28,000 less than a man earning median earnings at every age. By age 65 the earnings gap has ballooned to $379,000.  These facts portray better than any woman can describe the every day actions which build into the tremendous pay gap between men and women, and it is these every day events that are holding women back from achieving their full potential. It is understandable that many women make decisions to not “lean in” to the work force.  The challenges are significant, and it is hard to keep putting those heels on every day when we know the struggle will continue, and that magical day when we are viewed as equals still seems so far away.

How Do We Keep Putting Our Heels On?  So how do we do it?  For some of us, we are the main wage earners for our families and we simply must keep going.  For others, we are doggedly determined to overcome these obstacles. For me, it is the right thing to do.  “ [I]n the nineteenth century a woman was not encouraged . . .On the contrary, she was snubbed, slapped, lectured and exhorted.  Her mind must have been strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disproving that. . . Among your  grandmothers and great grandmothers, there were many who wept their eyes out [because girls who tried to use their intellectual gifts were thwarted].”  (From A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf, 1929.)  Each generation of women has had its challenges, and we are higher up on the ladder because we stand on the shoulders of many brave women whose sufferings were far greater than our own.  We need to stay in the game so that those who come after us will move even further up the ladder.  And we do it by joining women’s organizations for support, mentoring other women, learning about our businesses so that there is no mystery and no magic about what is needed to advance, by working hard and working smart, and by taking our women friends and colleagues along with us as we advance in our careers.  It is too easy to get discouraged, and therefore it is mandatory to have friends who will serve as sounding boards and to give inspiration.  These are the ways women keep putting those heels on!

Close the Pay Gap.  If we can close the pay gap, we can change the world.
If a pay gap existed for men, we would see immediate legislation and severe penalties. Walk a mile in my heels and you should see that a pay gap in the
United States of America in the year 2012 is not right.   It is time for
immediate and effective change for the spouses, daughters, sisters, women friends, nieces, granddaughters, and the little girls and teen girls in our lives.  Equal Pay Day is April 9, 2013.  Raise your voice.  Close the gap. And tell us what it is like to walk a mile in your heels, or your boots, tennis shoes, sandals, or loafers. Let’s make our stories go viral!  Like Anne marie Houghtailing of the Millionaire Girls Movement said once, “You know that small voice that tells you that you are made for greatness and something bigger? It’s true.  It doesn’t lie.  Be very still, listen, and TAKE ACTION!”



My friend Sheryl Axelrod reminded me of this post today.  Ms. JD should release it again next year for Equal Pay Day.    Sheryl said there are comments but I am not seeing any???  Maybe because I never commented so trying that…

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